Once a novelty, today subscriptions are a part of everyday life, with the average Brit spending £620 a year on sign-up services and 81% of households signed up to at least one rising 65% year-on-year.

A combination of novelty, convenience and access to a more unique product or service offering has piqued people's interest and encouraged sign-up.

Whether it’s a sustainable deodorant delivery, your personalised monthly vitamins or another streaming service to add to your list, it was welcomed with open arms.

Now subscription services have come under intense scrutiny as the cost-of-living crisis forces consumers to cut back on their outgoings.

Along with switching to discount brands, a total of 1.7 million people in Britain have cancelled subscriptions like Netflix, according to a recent Lloyds Bank poll.

This has resulted in the ongoing battle between big streaming platforms escalating into an arms race, with the likes of Disney+, Apple TV+ and Netflix funnelling vast amounts into their content in a bid to hold on to and grow subscribers.

Along with improving the end product, the increased competition should be forcing brands to adopt a more customer-centric subscription model that puts the users at the heart.

People are demanding value for money, a better user experience, more incentives and increased flexibility when it comes to subscription services.

A key part of being more consumer-centric, particularly in the current economic climate, is making it as easy as possible for people to cancel or pause their subscriptions.

Duplicitous measures to keep the subscription payments rolling in, such as forcing subscribers to phone up in order to cancel, are no longer acceptable.

In the long term, this approach erodes consumer trust in the brand. If you make it as difficult as possible for your subscribers to cancel, you can be sure that, once they do break free, they’ll never come back to your brand.

Brands focused on making it easier for people to manage their subscriptions include Cuvva, the car insurance company, which offers cover on a rolling monthly subscription that can be cancelled any time for free.

There are also new apps on to the market, such as Rocket Money, designed to keep track of a person’s subscriptions and help them to quit the ones they aren’t using.

Personalising the subscription model to suit different customer preferences, budgets, household set-ups and cultures is also critical to growth.

Spotify, a new client at VML, offers subscription plans that reduce costs for couples, families and students without impacting the listening experience, with added features tailored to some of those plans, such as "kids’ music" in the family plan.

Cultural nuance is also taken into consideration by Spotify across different markets, such as the number of family members, different payment methods and additional premium packages to suit their specific needs.

Meanwhile, some companies have based their subscription offering entirely around personalisation, such as Stitch Fix, the online personal shopping service that uses AI algorithms to send customers fashion items suited to their taste.

Offering compelling incentives is another way of getting customers to embrace the subscription model. Social media platforms are now offering premium services as an incentive for users to pay on free-to-use platforms, such as Twitter Blue and Meta Verified.

Free trials are, of course, another popular incentive, greatly boosting a service’s chance of converting a lead into a paying customer.

The ultimate goal is to get a single view of the customer so that the brand can provide seamless and customised experiences. But offering customers a flexible experience requires a more joined-up approach from brands on the operational side, and this is where the more established brands are at a disadvantage.

New market disruptors are intrinsically more agile and efficient at providing customer experiences. As these disruptors have emerged, the tech has evolved, and older brands are struggling to keep up.

Established brands are investing in tech solutions bolted together with disconnected data pools, which takes time and money to re-architect.

Subscriptions are built on creating and maintaining strong customer relationships. In order to do that, you have to understand each individual consumer and serve them what they need, in the way they need it.

Consumers don’t care why something doesn’t work; they just expect it to. Brands have got to make the customer experience central to their subscription offering in order to stand out, succeed and stick around.

Nicola Jenkins is experience director, VML

This article was originally published in Campaign Magazine

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